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Living in a beautiful place such as the Mid North Coast of NSW, there is so much on offer let alone the opportunities of capital growth and general occupancy rates when it comes to investing in residential real estate.

Land is still being released offering small acreages through to planned communities, all within a short drive by car to either the beach or the hinterland.

It’s all great until the time arises…and in general, it will, where mould will accumulate right under your nose…literally.

When there is a lot of moisture in the air, combined with humidity, vegetation, shaded or heavily treed areas…mould can cause some serious issues.

More than being unsightly, mould is a major health concern. When mould dries out or is disturbed, it releases microscopic spores, which can cause illness in some people or compound existing health issues like asthma or respiratory difficulties.

Mould is a fungus that can grow in homes when conditions are damp, dark and inadequately ventilated. The more common places for mould include bathrooms, kitchens, cluttered storage areas (cupboards), wall and roof spaces or behind furniture. Mould can spread from one surface to another by contact or it can travel in the air.

If left untreated, mould will grow into plaster, ceilings, behind walls, in and behind gyprock and under carpets and floorboards – potentially causing structural damage.

The cause of mould and mildew in a rental property, for example, could stem from maintenance issues or from the action or inaction of tenants, which means fixing the problem could rest with either you or with your tenants.

It is property owners’ responsibility to remedy mould caused by structural issues or stemming from a lack of maintenance or repairs such as:

  • Roof leaks
  • Cracked roof tiles
  • Broken pipes
  • Poorly maintained gutters
  • Water entering buildings
  • Rising damp
  • Indoor leaks
  • Poor ventilation below the property or in roof voids.

It’s critical during the quarterly inspection process to look for potential problems, and also encourage tenants to immediately report any dampness, windows that don’t close/ open properly or leaks.

Investment property owners are required to keep the property in a reasonable state of repair, meet building, health and safety requirements, and ensure all repairs are undertaken within a reasonable time frame in a professional manner.

The tenancy agreement could be in breach if you don’t fulfil these obligations, make sure you understand your responsibilities according to your state/territory legislation.

Your tenant may seek compensation from you if mould damages their personal property and you’ve failed to take reasonable steps.

However, it’s not all about the owner and their responsibilities.

Tenants could be responsible for cleaning up outbreaks if their actions resulted in mould forming. For example:

  • Showering without switching on the exhaust fan or opening a window
  • Cooking without turning on the extractor fan
  • Using a drier without ventilation
  • Using un-flued heaters, which can release water vapour into the air
  • Wet carpet
  • Neglecting to wipe condensation from walls or windows
  • Storing large volumes of water-absorbent materials such as books or boxes in a damp space
  • Not cleaning the home properly

If the tenant has caused the underlying problem that led to mould developing or hasn’t informed you or your agent of an issue with the property, they could be held responsible for mould damage and may have to compensate you.

Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental property in a reasonable state of cleanliness, not intentionally or negligently causing or permitting damage, and informing the landlord or agent of any damage as soon as possible. A sound communication plan here is the key to managing a potential mould issue…be clear about who is responsible for what, and have it clearly understood with your managing agent that both the landlord and tenant’s know of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

It’s War on Mould!

It’s recommended not to ask tenants to undertake any cleaning that could pose health or safety risks. This cleaning should be contracted out to professionals who are licensed/certified and insured.

If the mould is widespread or identified within structures, a specialist cleaner will need to be engaged.

You and your tenants should only attempt to clean up minor outbreaks of surface mould, for example, if it is in a cupboard or wardrobe, a small patch on a wall or on bathroom tiles.

As mould growth is frequently unavoidable and because it usually doesn’t cause any damage if it is taken care of quickly (preventable), insurers will not offer cover for mould damage.

Neither landlord (landlord or building and contents) nor tenant (renter’s contents) can claim on their insurance for the damage caused by mould. Damage caused by mould/mildew/fungus/algae is a standard exclusion in most building and contents policies in Australia…be sure to check this out with your insurer.

Although a home can fall prey to the dreaded mould spores at any time of the year, the arrival of cooler weather is prime time. Get on top of any mould issues before they become expensive problems – someone or everyone will pay a price if not resolved early…stay on top of it and enjoy where we live.